Aluminium is light and strong. The aircraft alloys (2024 and 6061) are nearly as strong as mild steel. Alloy aluminium is easy to cut and finish. A fine aluminium blade can be made with nothing but hand tools (hacksaw, files, sandpaper) similar to the tools used to make a wooden model. It can easily be brought to a mirror finish by hand using fine sand paper and paste polishing compounds. It does not rust. The techniques learned apply to working ferrous and other non-ferrous metals such a brass and bronze. This is a project that can be done in an apartment or bedroom workshop.
Although an aluminium blade is primarily a "wallhanger" (a show piece), many of the blades seen in movies are aluminium. Why? For many of the reasons above. They are strong, lightweight and relatively inexpensive to make and look good. Not rusting makes them low maintenance. When used for swordplay (acting, demonstrations, practice) they have very round dull edges to prevent cutting someone as well as damaging the blade. Being light makes them easier to wield.
In the real 21st Century world an aluminium sword is just as lethal as a steel sword. Although lighter than bronze an aluminium alloy blade is nearly as strong and can take about the same edge as a bronze sword. Remember the Bronze Age? The thousands of years leading up to the Iron Age? All of the slaughter in the Old Testament of the Bible and in most of the Greek tales (Homer, The Odyssey) occurred during the Bronze Age. So an aluminium sword is not a joke or a toy.
Aluminium is a "white metal", it looks more like silver than steel. However, many people cannot tell the difference between polished aluminium and plated steel. Although it does not rust it DOES slowly oxidize. But it takes years for a polished aluminium surface to oxidize to a dull surface.
An aluminium sword can have aluminium, brass or steel furniture. You will have scraps of aluminium to use for furniture (the guard and pommel) but if you wish and want to spend the money you can use other metals. The methods of shaping and fitting are the same.
The grip can be made using any suitable method. It can be solid metal, wood, bone, synthetic ivory, leather wrap, wire wrap, plastic. . . I have made wallhanger grips out of auto body putty then carved and painted it to look like bone. Wood can be done the same or finished natural. Small bits of exotics such as Ebony, Rosewood or Cocobolo could be used.
- Bench Vise or clamps
- Table or work bench
- Hacksaw or metal cutting band saw.
- Files (several types)
12" Mill file bastard cut
10" Flat smooth cut
8" Flat smooth cut
12" Square bastard cut
10" Flat aluminium cut
8" Half Round aluminium cut
10" Round rough cut
120 grit cloth backed (belts or sheets)
240 grit cloth backed (belts or sheets)
180 grit Wet-or-dry (pack)
320 grit Wet-or-dry (pack)
- 1 can 3M Orange buffing compound.
- Sanding Block(s)
- Hand Scrape with burnisher (standard wood working or hand made).
- 1/4" Drill (hand or electric), 7/32" and 1/4" bits.
Optional tools can include a belt sander/grinder and a small lathe (to turn the pommel). A traditional Japanese clamp bench can also be substituted for the vise but is not suitable for sawing.
A Jeweler´s Saw and bench pin or fine wood working scroll saw can make fitting the guard much easier but this is the limit of their capacity in non-ferrous metal and 1/4" is probably too much in steel. The jeweler's saw can be used to make cutouts (piercings) in the blade and guard as well as making inlays for the grip.
You may want a wider variety of files but you can also do with less. For this project one of the large coarse files or aluminum cut files will do.
The suitable aluminum alloys are 2024-T6, 6061-T6 or 7075-T6. 6061-T6 is the most commonly available. 7075-T6 is a very hard grade. 2024-T6 is used for 90% of an aircraft's structure and is a little soft.
The "T" values are the temper (hardness). Aluminium is hardened by working (rolling, stretching) and age hardening in an oven. 0 is the softest and 7-10 the hardest. Hard aluminums are best because they cut easier and do not clog cutters and abrasives as bad as soft. They also take a better finish AND for our purpose are stronger and springier.
A piece of 1/4" x 1-1/2" or 2" will only cost a couple dollars per foot. Order a piece 48" (1.2m) long.
This is a "stock removal" method. It could be done with a large belt sander and coarse belts but is not too difficult by hand. The entire blade can be roughed in a day or two.
Note that aluminium and brass can quickly clog or load grinding belts. Special non clogging belts are available and coolant helps reduce clogging. NEVER grind aluminium on a bench grinder. The wheel will clog instantly and require dressing before regular use.
Starting from the 1/4" slab you will need to layout the shape of the blade using a fine marker or a "Sharpie". Be sure to have large radii where the tang attaches to the blade. I recommend 1/4" minimum. Sharp corners cause stress concentration and result in blades that break at the tang. The longer the blade the heavier the tang should be. Since this is going to be a long sword the tang will be nearly as wide as the blade and taper to square (the same width as thickness) for about the last 1-1/2".
Saw out the blank then file smooth (profile the blade). At the tang leave extra material at the radii so that the finished shape can be filed smooth. File the edges of the blank clean and square to remove all saw marks or divots.
Layout the blade's center line on both sides and both edges. This can be done with dividers and a straight edge or a cabinett makers marking guage. I would lightly scribe these lines but they can also be applied with a sharp felt tip marker.
Start filing! The goal is to produce smooth flat facets. Use the coarse files until the shape is complete. Leave a flat edge on the blade between 1/16" and 1/8" wide. Try for a nice crisp center bevel on the sides of the blade. Do not sharpen or round edges with the coarse files.
File out all the coarse file marks with a smooth cut file OR use the scraper. Remove the smooth file marks with the scraper. Hold it at about 45° to the direction of the stroke. Alternate the angle between strokes. This will flatten as well as smooth.
NOTE: DO NOT use the scraper parallel to any of the file marks. This will result in bumps or ripples that are very hard to get out. It helps to file in alternating directions so that you produce an even cross hatching at about 30° angles. When scraping work at angles different than the file cuts.
At this point the object is to make flat smooth surfaces with sharp cornered jewel like facets. This helps keep the lines straight and accurate. Rounding comes last.
IF you did a very good job with the scraper you can jump to the 180 grit Wet-or-Dry paper. Use it wet and on a sanding block or stick. Continue to keep all the facets flat and with crisp sharp corners. A sanding block can help prevent rolling of corners. Work the entire blade until it has a smooth grey finish and no evidence of filing or scraping.
IF you did NOT do a very good job with the scraper or did not scrape then start with the 120 grit cloth. Use it wet and on a sanding block or stick. Continue to keep all the facets flat and with crisp sharp corners. When the entire blade has an even finish then change to the 240 cloth.
Once finished with the 180 paper or 240 cloth it is time to radius the blade edges. Leaving a flat facet on the edge of the blade it will look sharp. Optionally you can use a smooth file to create two 45° chamfers which result in a sharp looking square edge. Do not try to make it sharper.
Rounding the edges is recommended if the blade is to be used in sword play. Otherwise it will nick and ding easily. Start by filing smooth even 45° chamfers on the square edge that leave a flat the same width as the chamfers. Then using 180 grit and a sanding block remove the file marks and break the resulting corners. The idea is to make a smooth accurate radius. Once the corners are broken you can hand sand the radius to a smooth round edge.
Using 320 grit paper wet finish the flats and edges by hand. Smoother paper can be used before polishing but I have found little or no advantage.
Polishing can be done on a sewn cotton buffing wheel using Tripoli OR by hand using 3M Orange buffing compound. Dip the folded corner of a rag into the buffing compound and apply to the blade rubbing lengthwise. As the compound dries refresh it. Do not apply to more than the area you can work at one time (about 1 foot of blade at a time). Continue to use the compound wet until it seems to do no more good. Then polish with the small amounts of the worn dried compound in the rag. Change to a smooth clean rag and polish off the remaining compound dry. A minuscule amount of worn compound off the surface of the blade will be enough to finish the surface to jewel like brilliance.
Saw out, shape and fit the guard from the material of your choice. To make the hole for the blade layout a rectangular hole the size of the tang on the back of the guard. Drill two 1/4" holes to start. Then file the hole square using the square file. Radius the front of the hole to fit the blade shoulder radius. Fit this area carefully. It should fit tight and not have any visible gaps. It is one of the most critical quality areas of a custom made blade. A perfect fit in this area is one mark of a professional. Finish and polish the guard the same as the blade.
The pommel is usually made of the same material as the guard. Drill a 15/64" hole in the pommel and then file the end of the tang to a snug fit. IF the grip will be a hard material and the pommel fitted last the round shank should have a little extra length. IF the grip will be added after the pommel then the tang needs a shoulder to position the pommel. There should be about one diameter of extra tang end. Countersink the hole in the end of the pommel lightly. The end of the tang is upset (bradded) into this chamfer on final assembly. The end is then finished round or flush with a file and finished to match.
The Grip if solid hard wood (walnut, ebony, exotic) is made the same as the Option 1 Wooden Sword grip and fitted to the pommel the same way. However, care must be taken when finishing wood and metal together. The wood cuts much easier than the metal and shaped tools fitting the cross section work best at the joint. A wood grip is best bedded in with clear epoxy as the tang is riveted making a tight permanent assembly.